Making a Clean Break When Faced With Challenging Surf


I recently visited Costa Rica, a picturesque land that many traveling surfers say looks the way Hawaii did in the 1950s.

It’s a raw tropical setting with high humidity. Everything’s green: the grass, the trees, the iguanas. Water is everywhere. From the road, we spotted crocodiles submerged near riverbanks.

But instead of finding nice waves peeling off a point break, we had to settle for Playa Hermosa, a very strong beach break about 10 minutes south of Jaco Beach, one of Costa Rica’s surfing centers on the Pacific side.

The waves had 8- to 10-foot faces and gave me some trouble while I was paddling out from shore to the lineup. When I got back, I asked Rockin’ Fig how I should have handled those heavy shore breaks that can crunch both surfers and surfboards.


The shore break is kinda tricky, said Fig. You gotta time it just right. You have to wait for a long time--when the set’s over and when you can get a lull and jam right out. Lots of people think that because it’s not breaking far from shore that they can make it out to the lineup real fast. But they end up losing that battle.

Tell me about it. I chose the wrong time and lost count of the number of waves I had to fight through. I got tired and was barely able to hang on to my board.

Well, let me tell you that in Mexico recently, we were surfing a rocky point break, which is different from a beach break.

We made it a rule not to pitch your board and let it go, but to always hang on to it.


But doesn’t that take more strength and sap your energy after a while?

Yup. But the reason I didn’t wanna pitch my board is because we were so far away from shore. The waves were solid double overhead and bigger on the sets. In waves that big, you’re chancing having your fin cut into you, or breaking your leash and having your board get thrashed by the rocks.

Well, what do you have to do then?

You gotta handle it like a true surfer. If you let go of your board, you’re going to end up in a big gamble like tumbling dice out there. You’re far from the shore, you’re talking sharks out here, a heavy current, and in our case, you’re paddling around rocks.


Your best bet is to hold on to the board because the scariest thing is losing your board and having to swim in by yourself.

Fig, I get tired from duck diving when I paddle out. I ended up doing lots of turtle rolls instead, where you hold your board parallel to the surface, wait for the wave surge to end and pop back up.

I like to turtle roll myself. Sometimes if you duck dive, you’re always catching the wave on top, and it pushes you back a little bit. If you turtle, the wave goes over you real fast.

Maybe I should have spent more time looking at the conditions.


Right. Time it and pay attention to the sets. That’s the most important thing. In Mexico, my friends and I sat on the beach for 10 minutes watching waves go by. We made sure it was flat on the horizon before we started to paddle out. If you pick the wrong time to go in, it could be the worst mistake of your life.

In Costa Rica, we met this guy Henry Frye, a surfboard shaper who moved to Jaco Beach from Houston.

Because of a knee injury, Frye, 56, doesn’t surf anymore. But when the waves get big, he stands on a cliff above a surfing break called Roca Loca and yells warnings to the surfers below when large sets are about to roll in.

You know, we could have used him in Mexico. At a point break, I rode a wave in too far and got caught inside in the impact zone of the shore break. Next thing I knew, I was getting knocked into a big rock. Then the current and breaking waves swept me toward a rock cliff. I kept paddling, and I felt like a human pinball missing rocks here, negotiating past a rocky cliff there.


Fortunately, I noticed a little sandy area on shore only about five to 10 feet wide and I slid right in there. I almost used up a couple of my seven lives right there.

(Where’d the other two go, Fig?)

Contests: Hats off to San Juan Capistrano pro surfer Shane Stoneman, who edged out Wes Laine of Virginia Beach in 4-foot surf to take the Quiksilver/Wave Riding Vehicles East Coast Surfing Championship at Virginia Beach, Va., on Aug. 29. Fig says it was Stoneman’s best showing on the U.S. Bud Tour and moved him in the standings from seventh place to fourth, behind Chris Brown, Rob Machado of Cardiff, and Taylor Knox.

ASP: On the bigger, Assn. of Surfing Professionals’ tour, Damien Hardman clinched the $125,000 Rip Curl Pro Landes at Hossegor, France, on Aug. 29. Hardman beat Machado, who took second.